Coast Cooking

Making a serious gumbo

All the things that go into a good gumbo organized and ready to go.
All the things that go into a good gumbo organized and ready to go. Special to the Sun Herald

Gumbo is possibly the best representation of South Mississippi’s food culture.

It is certainly a favorite and everyone puts their own personal spin on the recipes. No two pots of gumbo are the same, and everyone has their personal favorite, whether it is their own recipe or someone else’s recipe they favor.

Want to start a food argument with someone in South Mississippi? Insist that your gumbo recipe or technique is the best, and the fur will fly.

That said, rest assured that the advice and recipe I offer here is nothing but a gentle suggestion.

And, for what its worth, sometimes a recipe is just a good starting point from which to venture.

This is not the best recipe, my technique is not the only technique, but I will tell you it works well for my partner, Kim Wilson, and me.

We have held two gumbo classes recently at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs and the classes and results were well-received. Check out their website themaryc.org for additional classes.

Roux, made from browned flour and fat, is an essential ingredient in Cajun and Creole cooking. Chef Allison Davis demonstrates how to make roux for gumbo.

Technique

Let’s start with a few suggestions on technique. First, and perhaps most importantly, is that you just can’t rush a good gumbo. A roux is done when it is done, not a second before.

Make chicken stock first

I suggest you start by making your own chicken stock. It is pretty simple if you follow the directions in the recipe included with this story.

Julian’s preferred gumbo

Preferred ingredients

1 pound chopped Conecuh sausage

1 pound large shrimp (buy head on and peel yourself)

1 chopped onion

1-2 chopped bell pepper

1 full cup chopped celery

2 cups chopped okra

4-6 cups homemade chicken stock

Flour (slightly more than a 1/4 cup for this recipe) and butter (slightly less butter flour)

Freshly ground black pepper,

Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning

Red pepper flakes

Sauté the sausage

Next sauté some Conecuh brand sausage in a little oil until well browned. Do not rush it. This gumbo is a one-pot dish, so each ingredient you add to the pot of chicken stock seasons it with flavors.

When the sausage is well-browned, remove it and set aside. Do not wash the pot out.

Now turn the heat to high, add oil if necessary and sauté the shrimp (if it is more than a pound, do it in batches) for exactly 1 minute. Stir often and make sure they all get turned over. Remove and set aside.

Vegetables

A traditional gumbo starts with a trinity of vegetables: onions, bell peppers and celery.

The other essential vegetable for a gumbo is okra. If you use the traditional three vegetables and add tomatoes, it becomes a Creole gumbo, don’t ask me why, but it does.

Classically, the vegetables are added to the pot in a specific order, celery first, because it takes longer to cook, then the onions and bell pepper, according to Chef John Chappy Chapman (chef and owner of Rum Kitchen in Waveland).

Seasonings

Make sure to use a good-quality olive oil and don’t be skimpy, season with a little black pepper, red pepper flakes and plenty of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning (Tony’s has salt, so you don’t need to add more). Please do not use oregano.

Down to the roux

Now it is just a matter of making a roux and putting it all together. Most cookbooks will tell you that you start with equal measures of butter (oil or clarified butter) and flour.

Wilson, whom I have nicknamed “the Queen of Roux,” disagrees. She suggests using slightly more flour than oil/butter, and she makes the best roux I have ever had, so I defer to her.

Add the flour (slightly more than a 1/4 cup for this recipe) and a 1/4 cup oil/butter to the pan, over medium-low heat and start stirring.

This is the part of the recipe that takes experience. I made a hundred roux’s before I got it right. It will start out being lumpy, keep stirring, then it will turn a pale brown, which is a blonde roux, keep stirring. Now it really starts to get dark, stir, stir, stir, and when it is a dark nut brown, and it has developed a wonderful aroma, take it off the stove. If you wait 1 minute more, it is burnt and all is lost.

Whisk in roux, add more seafood

Whisk the roux into the simmering gumbo until there are no lumps. If you want to add more seafood, like fresh fish or quartered crabs, add them now. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the chicken and shrimp and simmer just 5 minutes. Serve with steamed rice or potato salad. Of course, gumbo is always best the next day.

Chicken stock

Chicken thighs

Cooking oil

1 onion roughly chopped

2 large carrots roughly chopped

Brown chicken thighs in oil, add rough chopped onions and carrots, cover with water, season to your taste and simmer for 20 minutes. De-bone the chicken, add the bones back to the stock and set aside the chicken meat to add to the gumbo later. Simmer 45 minutes longer, strain.

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